Thursday, June 29, 2006

Parliamentary update

Some recent PQs, debates etc that are relevant to FOI, the first example links neatly with the outline research on MPs use of the FOIA I published on the blog earlier this week. The HOL debate on the
Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill also raises important issues about the how the FOIA needs consideration under clause 9. I had previously highlighted this Bill in a posting (also see the Wikidepia reference)

House of Commons debates Wednesday, 28 June 2006
Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire, Conservative)
"Sadly, the techniques used by Ministers to tell one nothing have become cruder in recent years. The answers that they provide are increasingly late, inadequate or simply spectacularly unhelpful—often, I fear, deliberately so. If that trend continues, there is a genuine risk that Parliament will be even more marginalised in our society than it is already, as people who really want to know the answer to questions opt to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 instead of looking to Members of Parliament to use parliamentary questions—another nail in the coffin of our effectiveness."

Mark Harper (Forest of Dean, Conservative)
"My hon. Friend also made the point that with the advent of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, we have to be very careful about how we use parliamentary questions to make sure that Ministers look to the answers to parliamentary questions as the pre-eminent method of transmitting information to Members, as Mr. Speaker has on a number of occasions made clear that they should. We should not be able to get that information more quickly or more comprehensively by another route. We know that newspapers make lots of freedom of information requests. Indeed, at some point it may be worth having an Adjournment debate on how that legislation is working. I suspect that some of the things that my hon. Friend said about parliamentary questions probably apply to freedom of information requests. We need to make sure that Parliament, not the Freedom of Information Act, is the central method of holding the Executive to account."

Written Answers — House of Lords: Freedom of Information (22 Jun 2006)
Lord Hanningfield (Conservative) Hansard source
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether Parliamentary Written Questions are subject to the same terms and exemptions as requests made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and whether it is government policy to cite exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as reasons for withholding information requested in Parliamentary Questions; and, if so, when such a change of policy occurred.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office) Hansard source
The reply to the noble Lord's previous Question (Official Report, 16 May 2006, col. WA 28) erred in relying on an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in accordance with Cabinet Office guidance available at–and–ethics/civil–service/pq–guidance.asp. It is not the Government's policy to cite Freedom of Information Act exemptions in response to Parliamentary Questions

House of Lords debates
Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill
Lord Goodhart: In Clause 9 there is a provision that the reform order procedure cannot be used to alter the Act itself or the Human Rights Act. That plainly does not go far enough. The Select Committee on the Constitution, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham, has set out in paragraph 53 a list of the statutes of a constitutional nature, from Magna Carta to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which are of particular constitutional importance and therefore should not be capable of being altered by the reform order procedure.

Listing statutes is not entirely satisfactory because there can be disagreement about what the relevant statutes are. For example, I certainly wish to see added to this list—if we make lists—the Freedom of Information Act as an Act of constitutional importance. Some Acts which are not of general constitutional importance may include provisions which are of importance. Others, such as the Constitutional Reform Act, include matters of obvious and highly significant constitutional importance but also matters which are perhaps not of such importance—for example, the procedures for dealing with complaints against judges by the ombudsman.

Read further FOI related references via this "search link" to Theyworkforyou

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